Last week, a focus group came into one of my classes at American University. They were a group of graduate students in the School of Communication asking a simple question: What makes AU students show up at events? They wanted to know how to get the message of their campaign out, publicize events, and build a movement among students. Naturally, one of the first things they asked about was social media. While the class agreed that having a Facebook event is a good idea, I realized that most of the time, it does very little to drive attendance.
At American, everyone is passionate about something. Some cause, project, person, or place. This creates a stimulating environment for learning, but also makes it almost impossible to tear anyone away from their issue and focus on another. Students agreed that while they are interested in some of the events that they are invited to on Facebook, there is simply an overwhelming number of them, over-saturating their events calendar. One student commented that she rarely even looks at an event she’s invited too–unless someone she is close to personally invites her. When everyone is fighting for the attention of a relatively few number of students, simply having engaging content and a great event idea isn’t enough. Peer-to-peer interaction is what really gets students to events.
As a student who has planned plenty of on-campus events, I shared in the frustration that many of my peers expressed. They’ll send out a Facebook invite to everyone from their freshman year roommate to their best friend to their bio lab partner, and inevitably, only a select few show up. Many people click to indicate that they will go, but you can only expect to see about a fourth (if you’re lucky) of that number next to “attending” show up day of event.
I realized that I’ve been a bit lazy by only relying on the most basic social media strategies to drive interests in the events I care so much about. I want to learn what, other than free pizza, what really makes an event on a busy college campus a success. My next post will focus on what students can do to make their events stand out on social media by emulating the “strong ties” that word of mouth promotion relies on.
It is not hyperbolic to say that essentially all women experience street harassment. As a female college student in a large city, being harassed in public is an expectation. More than 80% of women worldwide will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their lives, including catcalls, stalking, groping, and many more harmful actions. And these behaviors are not as benign as many believe. Continued harassment may persuade some women to move neighborhoods, switch gyms, take a longer route to work, or constantly avoid eye contact on the street. It’s also scary. Running into a harasser on the commute from work ensures that I will be looking over my shoulder the rest of my way home.
Worse still, this type of violence is constantly minimized and ignored. I recently tweeted about a status I read on Facebook. It was posted by a female student who I know is studying abroad in France this semester. She expressed frustration with the overwhelming amount of harassment that young women are the target of on the streets of Paris. The first comment read #humblebrag. Implying, or simply stating in this case, that harassment is desired by the victim or is flattering to them is one of the clearest examples of rape culture at play. And it’s not an uncommon sentiment.
Victims of street harassment are also made to feel as though the violence is imagined or accidental, which plants guilt and doubt in the mind of the person being taken advantage of. This Halloween as I was leaving a bar, the person behind me in the massive, huddled crowd passing through the door reached over and grabbed me. I guess he was hoping that I would ignore the action in the confusion of the crowd, but when I quickly pushed his hand away and shouted to be left alone, he yelled back to relax because he was just trying to get out of the bar with everyone else, and that I was crazy to think that he would try to make a move on me. I moved as quickly as I could dart away through the people, yet this thought entered my head: “What if it was an accident? What if I overreacted?” I knew for a fact that groping the person in front of you is never a necessary step to leaving a bar, yet his all too common words still made an impact, and frightened me even more.
Luckily, Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) is a DC organization that is working to combat street harassment, and they’re using social media to do it. (DC residents may have seen the WMATA campaign earlier this year to prevent and combat harassment on the metro and buses–that campaign was the result of the advocacy of CASS!)
Although the organization is exclusively volunteer run, the @SafeSpacesDC twitter page actively retweets 140 character stories of harassment in DC to promote awareness. They have retweeted posts of mine, including the one about the Facebook friend in Paris. They are always posting great content about street harassment from all around the internet and the world and are definitely worth a follow. On their site, they encourage people who have experienced street harassment in DC to share their stories through a series of blogs called “My Streets, Too.” According to CASS volunteers, just sharing experiences in a supportive community can be extremely therapeutic for victims, and can be equally empowering for readers.
CASS has already accomplished a lot in the DC community. If they continue to utilize social media to their advantage, the impact of their message can be profound. Keep an eye out for the results of their current project, a program called “Safe Bars.”
It somehow became front page (of my Facebook) news recently that Sarah Jessica Parker began tweeting. This sudden interest in SJP’s online life is unsurprising for a couple of reasons: She is obviously well known for her iconic role as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City and her style is closely followed by fashionistas. But it’s also confusing. Primarily because she doesn’t seem to be very good at this social media thing at all. But also because her twitter icon is a far-too-close-for-comfort picture of what I am guessing is her eye. She has not yet personalized her profile in any other way. And she posts a lot for a first time twitter user, but all of her posts are pretty strange. They’re either:
or not spell checked, making for some awkward moments,
or pictures of lackluster meals,
or mundane pictures from her newly created Instagram account.
Celebrities! They’re just like us!
Obviously, there’s nothing offensive or terrible about these tweets, they’re just not very good. Which is particularly frustrating because she is a well respected and liked actress and, judging by her instant popularity online, has the brand already intact to become a Twitter sensation. Despite her having the Twitter account since 2011, she clearly did not prepare in a strategic way for her debut on the platform at all. While there is something to be said for authentic tweets, there is such a thing as too authentic. Hiring someone to help create a social media plan and build a blueprint to match your brand is necessary to be successful in the long term and is never a bad idea. When a person has the brand, expertise, and personality to be a successful social media star, its confusing when they don’t take the time and energy to do so. I like Sarah Jessica Parker, and she could do such a great job tweeting more about things she knows and make her who she is: fashion, her life, and her career as an actress.
A similar scenario unfolded recently with Martha Stewart and Twitter. Despite being a famous celebrity chef and cookbook author, she has proven to be a terrible Twitter food journalist. She recently attracted buzz on Twitter because of a particularly humorous series of poorly taken photos of questionable looking meals. Her problems on Twitter could be easily solved by the use of the flash on her iPhone and a social media expert. So why hasn’t she hired anyone yet?
Both Sarah Jessica Parker and Martha Stewart prove that just because someone is an expert at something, doesn’t mean that they are an expert at communicating about that something. At the end of the day, everyone could use some help crafting a perfect social media persona. It’s obviously not as easy as it looks, even for celebrities. Luckily for me and my classmates, it doesn’t look like social media jobs will become superfluous for a while.
Although she arrived fashionably late to the Twitter party, this summer Hillary Clinton made a splash upon joining the ever popular social media platform. It was a clearly well thought out and strategic move that met the high expectations of even her youngest and most tech-savvy supporters. Receiving attention for her Twitter debut on outlets ranging from political magazines to pop culture blogs, thanks to her lighthearted, socially aware tone, Clinton’s first tweet was one of the most anticipated in politics.
Twitter has played a more important role in politics than ever imaginable. As President Obama showed in his two incredibly successful online campaigns, competence, awareness, and personability on social media is the key to political success, both for fund raising and at the ballot. The Clinton campaign’s strong voice and head start on Twitter indicate that she will successfully emulate the president’s success on social media.
@Hillary Clinton’s bio, which cleverly reads “Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…” has been the subject of much praise. In fact, the Washington post stated that it “may be the best [Twitter] bio ever.” This move has the power to capture the attention of the politically savvy as well as the normally uninterested. Hillary Clinton’s Twitter bio is strong, smart, and sassy. She shows that she’s in the know about pop culture, and as a public figure she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
This is important because Twitter has the power to actually influence people’s perception of a politician. A 160 character twitter bio gives politicians the unusually impossible luxury of creating a clear, succinct brand for themselves to present to the world. Her Twitter bio does what a Twitter bio should: among all else, it shows her as a person.
Clinton picked up 350,000 followers on Twitter almost immediately, with a single tweet, a well thought-out profile, and a notable name as content. This proves that, for politicians, it is not enough to simply exist, creating arbitrary content on these platforms. Instead, it is essential to create a strategic plan and tone for a Twitter persona to grab attention and showcase a candidate’s personality and passions. For Hillary, these passions are made immediately clear by the strikingly small number of people she follows. Of these nine accounts, two are Bill and Chelsea Clinton, showcasing her devotion to her influential family, and another four are organizations devoted to empowering students and women. Notably absent are other politicians or campaign staff.
Clinton also doesn’t limit herself to tweeting about politics. She tweets about current events in pop culture, her non-profit work — and she even recently tweeted at J.K. Rowling.
This one-on-one feel gives an undeniably warm impression to anyone following her, (all 800,00+ users) and even more importantly, everyone reading what her supportive followers have retweeted. Therein lies the secret of creating engaging content — it travels and influences beyond the reach of just those that have opted to seeing your posts.
On Twitter, Clinton also embraced the viral “Texts from Hillary” meme, popularized on the social networking site Tumblr, with a sense of humor. She chose the now iconic image of her texting in oversized sunglasses as her official Twitter profile picture, showing off her personality and humility. The “Texts from Hillary” Tumblr page ended its activity after receiving a submission from the candidate herself. In the founders’ goodbye post, they write, “As far as memes go – it has gone as far as it can go. Is it really possible to top a submission from the Secretary herself?” They acknowledge poignantly, however, that the celebratory joke “will live on with all of you on the Internet.”
To that point, the promise of the Internet is the ability for a few to spark a national conversation that can span years and touch people from every walk of life. This is why an engaging social media presence is one of the strongest, most enduring, and self-sustaining tools that a politician can wield. Hillary Clinton is proving that she will be a social media force to be reckoned with in 2016.